Chinchillas have unique behaviors compared to many other types of pets. Some chinchilla owners may be confused about fighting versus playing behavior. There are a few specifics about their behaviors or the current environment that can indicate one or the other. There are also steps you can take to ensure they are introduced properly and to break up fights if they do occur.
Are My Chinchillas Fighting or Playing?
Chinchillas enjoy playing with one another and, to the untrained eye, this can sometimes come off like fighting behavior. There are certain situations or characteristics that would make it more likely that they were fighting and not just playing. For instance, chinchillas may act differently with each other based on age, sex, and the presence of any current stressors.
To start, chinchillas are social and like to interact with each other from the start. Kits (young chinchillas), are very unlikely to be fighting with one another. At this age, they don’t have much, if anything, to fight about. Chinchillas generally won’t start exhibiting aggressive behavior until they hit puberty. So, if you have very young chinchillas, they are most likely playing and not fighting.
Male and female chinchillas also display different behaviors toward one another. Fighting is most common in adult males. Females can still be aggressive with each other and adult males, though. This is especially prevalent during their estrus cycle. If the concerning behavior is coming from a male and being shown toward a female, you are likely just seeing playing. If it happens between males or by an adult female, the likelihood that they are fighting is higher.
You also need to be aware that stress can cause aggressive behaviors in chinchillas. Being a prey species, chinchillas are naturally programmed to be fearful of certain sounds, smells, and sights. If there is no presence of any major stressors, you are probably seeing them playing and not fighting.
Chinchilla Fighting Signs
There are some signs about the current environment and a chinchilla’s behavior that would indicate a fighting situation. Starting with the environment, chinchillas are sensitive to sounds, smells, and sights. For instance, these indicators could include other pets in the area, loud noises, a lot of movement, odd or intense smells, etc. If there are a few things in the area that could be stressing them out, you are probably seeing fighting behavior.
You can also easily see signs that chinchillas are distressed about something. Changes in appearance is one of the first things you will notice. For instance, their fur may have a rough or disheveled appearance. They will display a variety of behaviors that usually indicate they are upset or frightened. Some of these behaviors include;
- Vocalizing (barking)
- Chewing on themselves or others
- Exhibiting changes in feeding or toileting behaviors
- Exhibiting odd movements (ex. racing back and forth in their cage)
- Being reluctant to move or staying very still
They may also exhibit very specific behaviors to respond to threats such as growling, chattering their teeth, or urinating.
After you’ve sized up the situation, you can also look at the specific behaviors they are exhibiting. Chinchilla fighting behavior is very distinct so you can easily identify it from playing. These behaviors can happen from and toward both males and females. Some of these behaviors include;
- Rearing up their hind legs
- Barking at each other
- Chasing each other
- Sizing each other up (intensely observing each other)
- Humping or exhibiting sexual behavior outside of the reproduction cycle
- Pulling each other’s fur
- Spraying urine
- Biting each other
Signs That They Might Just be Playing
Chinchilla playing behavior can be easily mistaken for fighting behavior sometimes. For instance, chinchillas may play by chasing each other, jumping, nibbling/chewing etc.
For some owners, this may look aggressive and would be a cause for concern. But these behaviors do not necessarily mean they are fighting.
One thing you will notice is that fighting behavior generally includes multiple indicators mentioned above. Depending on how many behaviors are being shown at once, you can gauge whether they are fighting or playing.
For example, if chinchillas are chasing and jumping at each other but they aren’t barking, spraying, or biting, you are probably seeing a playing behavior.
Why Are My Chinchillas Fighting?
There are several reasons why your chinchillas might be fighting with each other. When you have more than one chinchilla, a fight for dominance may occur.
Generally speaking, chinchillas will always establish some type of hierarchy. This is sometimes more peaceful than others. In the times when this is not a smooth process, you may see fighting between your chinchillas who are each trying to establish themselves as the group leader.
There are also a few more specific types of dominance you will witness. Starting early in life, if your female chinchillas gives birth to more than two offspring, the kits tend to fight with each other in order to get their mother’s milk. You may also see aggressive behavior in adults in they need to fight over resources like food, water, and hiding spots.
In adult life, chinchillas will fight for dominance in the reproductive cycle. Males, though they may generally be civil with one another, will become very aggressive with each other if they are housed with a female that is ready to mate.
Likewise, females may become more aggressive during this time as well due to hormonal changes she is experiencing.
One other common reason that chinchillas fight is due to general feelings of distress. When chinchillas are stressed out or feel threatened, they go into a defensive mode that makes them act aggressively toward any other creature. If they have been startled by something, they may attack each other.
Breaking up a Chinchilla Fight
It is important to intervene when chinchillas fight. Left alone, fighting chinchillas could end up seriously injuring or even killing one another.
When you see them fighting, you will need to separate them immediately. They typically won’t stop on their own so it isn’t a case of just letting them work it out.
You can sometimes reintroduce them into the same space after a cooling off period. However, if they continue fighting, you will need to set up two different cages for them.
But, keeping in mind that they are very social beings, you should keep the cages in close proximity so they can still communicate with one another.
How to Prevent Chinchilla Fights
Chinchillas may sometimes be prone to fighting but there are ways you can avoid this. Given the information you have already learned, carefully plan who you are housing together and when.
Be cautious when keeping males together, especially when there is also a female present. And be especially careful and monitor everyone closely when they are ready to mate.
One of the best ways to prevent chinchilla fights is to set up a calm, relaxing environment.
The less stress they have, they less likely they are to fight. Chinchillas have a few basic, but highly important, environment needs. Besides having accessible food and water, they will also need;
- Hiding places
- Space for activity (running, jumping, playing, etc.)
- Dust bath areas
- Toys and chewing opportunities
- Nest boxes (at least one per chinchilla)
In general, you will also need to be careful about your own behavior around them to make sure they don’t become frightened. Avoid placing their cage in an area with loud noise or a lot of commotion. Also, you can interact with them by petting them but remember they typically don’t like being picked up.
Chinchillas are not creatures that can be put together on a whim. Chinchillas live in huge colonies in the wild but domesticated chinchillas need time to adjust to one another.
When you want to introduce chinchillas, you should start by letting them roam in a neutral territory, like a large hallway, couch, bed, play pen, etc. You can use this time to gauge their initial interactions and thoughts of each other.
Your next step will be to place their cages in close proximity for a week or so but not close enough that they can touch. They also need to get used to each other’s scent. You can do this by swapping cages for short amounts of time or exchanging dust baths.
Once they have become used to the sight and smell of each other, you can let them have play times together. Eventually, they can be moved into the same cage but you will still need to monitor their behavior.
Chinchillas are social creatures that love to be around each other. At the same time, they may still fight on occasion.
You will see them playing a lot and you can tell if they are fighting by looking for signs of stress, barking or teeth chattering, urine spraying, dominant sexual behavior, and biting, fur pulling or other mild forms of aggressive behavior.
It is important to introduce chinchillas to each other slowly and keep a calm environment for them. If they do fight, it is also important to separate them as quickly as possible. Once they have cooled off, you can reintroduce them to each other.
Chinchillas are great pets to have and, if you monitor for the behaviors mentioned above, you should have no problems with them. Be gentle, patient, and cautious and you will be just fine.